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DOJ to seek death penalty for gunman in Buffalo supermarket mass shooting

Police secure an area around a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket where 10 people were killed in a shooting on May 14, 2022.
Derek Gee
The Buffalo News via AP, File
Police secure an area around a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket where 10 people were killed in a shooting on May 14, 2022.

Updated January 12, 2024 at 2:00 PM ET

The Justice Department says it will seek the death penalty for the white gunman who killed 10 African Americans in 2022 at grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., in a racially motivated massacre.

In a new court filing submitted Friday, federal prosecutors say that the circumstances of the crimes "are such that, in the event of a conviction, a sentence of death is justified." This marks the first time that the Justice Department under the Biden administration has sought the death penalty in a new case.

The gunman, Payton Gendron, pleaded guilty in New York state court last year to the May 2022 killings at the Tops supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo. He was sentenced in November in the state case to life without parole.

But Gendron still faces a federal prosecution on 27 counts of hate crimes and gun charges.

In the new filing in federal court in Buffalo, prosecutors say there are several factors that justify a death sentence, including that the killings were intentional, required substantial planning and premeditation and were racially motivated.

They say, for example, that he selected the Tops Friendly Market "in order to maximize the number of Black victims." They also say Gendron attempted to incite violence action by others.

President Biden campaigned in 2020 on ending capital punishment, but has done little to make that happen, sparking criticism from opponents of the death penalty.

Shortly after Attorney General Merrick Garland took charge at the Justice Department in 2021, he announced a moratorium on federal executions, pending a review of the department's policies.

The Buffalo case marks the first time that Garland has authorized prosecutors to pursue the death penalty in a new case.

He has permitted prosecutors to move forward with two capital prosecutions that were authorized during the Trump administration.

The first was against Sayfullo Saipov, who was convicted of deliberately ramming his truck into a bike path in Manhattan, killing eight people. He was sentenced to life in prison after the jury failed to reach agreement on the death penalty.

In the other, prosecutors sought the death penalty for the shooter who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. The jury in that case recommended a sentence of death.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.